Short summary for those in hurry:
There is support in Pehrson 1940 for the origin of facial (dermal) bones on a cartilaginous template (contra Hall 2005) in a proximal shark descendant.
- Sturgeons (shark ancestors in the LRT) have facial bones sheathed to a cartilage template.
- Sharks lose all trace of bone, but keep the cartilage.
- Bony fish (shark descendants in the LRT) reacquire facial bones on a cartilage template
Several recent reader comments disputed and/or cast doubt on the identity of shark skull bones (Fig. 2) and the shark-to-bony fish transition recovered by the large reptile tree (LRT, 1771+ taxa, see Fig. 1 diagram). Objections were based on developmental grounds. One reader (CB) wrote: “Most of the bones you’re trying to identify on shark chondrocrania are dermal bones. That means they don’t pre-form in cartilage. Which means animals without a bony skull cannot have them.”
That is the traditional view found in current textbooks.
my guess is this comment resulted after reading any of several authors all citing Hall 2005, who wrote, “The vertebrate dermal skeleton includes the plate-like bones of the skull, and, in reptiles and fishes, also includes various scales, scutes, denticles and fin rays. Dermal bone forms via a process known as intramembranous ossification, with mesenchymal condensations differentiating directly into bone without a cartilaginous template.”
As everyone knows, no part of shark skulls is bone. It’s all cartilage. Nevertheless and despite obliteration and/or fusion of most skull sutures, shark ‘nasal’ templates still cover the snout and nares. Shark ‘frontal’ templates are still located between the eyes. I have retained tetrapod skull nomenclature for shark skull template elements in order to include shark taxa in the LRT.
A valid phylogenetic context, like the LRT (diagram in Figs 1, 4), is vital in matters like this. Taxon exclusion leading to an improper cladogram is the root cause of most prior misunderstandings, as readers well know.
Wagner and Aspenberg 2011 wrote:
“Bone is specific to vertebrates, and originated as mineralization around the basal membrane of the throat or skin, giving rise to tooth-like structures and protective shields in animals with a soft cartilage-like endoskeleton.”
That’s not correct. In sharks dentine and enamel from the skin and teeth are not bone. Instead, bone first appears in sturgeons and kin. Then it disappears in sharks only to reappear in bony fish + tetrapods, according to the LRT. Traditionally and mistakenly sturgeons were considered relatives of derived bony fish, which is part of the problem.
In sturgeons and paddlefish, Bemis et al. 1997 report,
“the bones more or less closely ensheath the underlying endochondral rostrum”. Sharks lack this sheath of bone on the rostrum. Instead, remaining more flexible cartilage supports the skull and skeleton.
Keys to understanding this issue include:
- Elements of the dermocranium in shark outgroup taxa: sturgeons (Fig. 1) and paddlefish = bone sheath over cartilage.
- Elements of the dermocranium in sharks (Fig. 2) = prismatic cartilage
- Elements of the dermocranium in proximal shark descendants: the bowfin, Amia (Figs. 2, 3) = bone patches develop around sensory cells over a cartilage template, according to Pehrson 1940.
Pehrson 1940 examined
a series of embryonic stages of the extant bowfin, Amia calva (Fig. 3), one of the most primitive bony fish in the LRT. Pehrson 1940 reports: “Three different stages of the formation of the premaxillary are shown. The anterior, dental part of the bone is clearly distinguishable from the posterior and dorsal part, situated above the cartilage.”
The ontogenetic origin of bone in Amia (Fig. 3) first appears in embryos as tiny islands on the skull surface over a cartilage or pre-cartilage template. This proximal descendant of hybodontid sharks (Fig. 2) documents many skull homologies.
It is noteworthy
that the appearance of bone surrounding sensory cells all over the skull in bony fish followed the reduction of the long, sensory-cell-filled rostrum in bony fish. Taking the other evolutionary route, other shark descendants (e.g. hammerheads, skates, rays, goblin sharks, elephant-nosed chimaera, sawfish), further elongated the rostrum for increased acuity in finding bottom-dwelling prey.
Pehrson also described
the appearance of ossification where prior cartilage dissolved, convergent with the process of fossilization. Thereafter some embryos began to develop ossified skull bones without a cartilaginous template, in accord with Hall 2005, who did not cite Pehrson 1940.
Pehrson was keen on naming fish bones in accord with those of pre-tetrapods. He reports, “There seems to be no doubt that the intertemporal and supratemporal parts of the developing composite bone correspond to the similarly named bones in Osteolepidae and Rhizodontidae.” Not sure if Pehrson was the first to do this, but it should be standard.
Supporting evidence that sturgeons are shark ancestors:
According to Wikipedia, notable characteristics of Acipenseriformes include:
- Cartilaginous endoskeleton – as in sharks and fish more primitive than sharks
- Lack of vertebral centrum – as in fish more primitive than sharks
- Spiral valve intestine – as in sharks, bichirs, gars and lungfish, the last two by reversals.
- Conus arteriosus = infundibulum, a conical pouch found in the heart from which the pulmonary trunk artery arises (not sure how this relates, but there it is).
Bemis et al. report,
“Acipenseriforms are central to historical ideas about the classification and evolution of fishes.”
Indeed. The LRT comes to the same conclusion.
“Acipenseriforms also are noteworthy because of their unusual mixture of characters, which caused early debate about their classification. Two aspects of living Acipenseriformes were especially problematic for early ichthyologists: (1) reduced ossification of the endoskeleton combined with presence of an extensive dermal skeleton; and (2) the presence of a hyostylic jaw suspension and protrusible palatoquadrate recalling the jaws of sharks.”
These aspects are not problematic of sturgeons and paddlefish are basal to sharks.
The palatoquadrate is neither a palatine nor a quadrate. It is largely homologous to the lacrimal with fusion of the tiny quadrate and tall, curved, preopercular in most taxa, fusion of the premaxilla and maxilla (tooth-bearing elements) on taxa with teeth. The former and future jugal is also typically fused.
“The current conventional view (developed and refined by many authors… holds that Acipenseriformes evolved from a ‘paleonisciform’ ancestor via paedomorphic reduction of the skeleton and specialization of the feeding system, but there is much more to the history of ideas about the systematics of this group.”
That is incorrect according to the LRT, which tests a wider gamut of fish and nests traditional acipenseriformes basal to unarmored sharks and derived from armored osteostracoderms (Fig. 4). There was no paedomorphic reduction of the skeleton at the origin of sturgeons. The sturgeon feeding system is not ‘specialized’. It is primitive.
Bemis WE, Findeis EK and Grande L 1997. An overview of Acipenseriformes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 48: 25–71, 1997.
Gillis JA 2019. ‘Secondary’ cartilage and the vertebrate dermal skeleton in Reference Module in Life Sciences.
Hall BK 2005. Bones and Cartilage. Academic Press, London. ISBN: 978-0-12-319060-4
Maisey JG 1983. Cranial anatomy of Hybodus basanus Egerton from the Lower Cretaceous of England. American Museum Novitates 2758:1–64.
Maisey JG 1987. Cranial Anatomy of the Lower Jurassic Shark Hybodus reticulatus
(Chondrichthyes: Elasmobranchii), with Comments on Hybodontid Systematics. American Museum Novitates 2878: 1–39.
Pehrson GT 1940. The development of dermal bones in the skull of Amia calva. Acta Zoologica 21:1–50.
Wagner DO and Aspenberg P 2011. Where did bone come from? An overview of its evolution. Acta Orthopaedica. 82(4):393–398.
The Skull, Volume 1. Eds. Hanken J and Hall BK University of Chicago Press Books, 1993.